Montco 100 percent clean energy conference provides green options
Monday, July 1, 2019
Re-posted from an article in the Times Herald
AMBLER — Judging from the crowd that packed the downstairs of From the Boot Italian restaurant in Ambler, Montgomery County municipalities are more than ready to move forward with renewable energy alternatives.
Representatives of 19 Montgomery County municipalities attended the Montco 100% Clean Energy Conference on Saturday to share ideas about how the 10 governing bodies that adopted a Ready for 100 Renewable Energy resolution could collaborate in implementing cost-sharing initiatives in terms of migrating municipal operations to green energy.
Ready for 100 is a national initiative of the Sierra Club aimed at encouraging local communities to commit to using 100 percent clean energy.
In Montgomery County, the effort began about two years ago, according to conference organizer Lou Ann Merkle, a Ready for 100 volunteer. Merkle, of Whitemarsh Township, had asked her elected officials for information related to transitioning to renewable energy.
“They said, ‘we have no plan,’” Merkle recalled, adding that she soon after applied and was appointed to the township’s Environmental Advisory Board as vice chair. Through her volunteer role, she encouraged her township to adopt a Ready for 100 Renewable Energy resolution. After 15 months of discussion, Whitemarsh Township was second in Montgomery County to do so, behind Springfield Township. Since then, Cheltenham, Plymouth and Abington townships, Ambler, Conshohocken, Norristown, Narberth and Bridgeport boroughs have adopted similar pledges.
“It’s urgent to the survival of the planet in future generations,” Merkle said of the need for other municipalities to get involved. “We’re in a climate crisis.”
In rallying a standing-room-only crowd, Merkle noted that “energy policy isn’t made at the federal level. It doesn’t happen at the state level. We, the people, have the power to drive this transition to 100% clean energy.”
Ambler Borough Councilwoman Nellie DiPietro said she hoped attending the conference would shed light on how her council could work with other municipalities to get a lower price on solar panels for borough municipal buildings.
“We want to be progressive in Ambler,” said DiPietro.
Keynote speaker Julia Griffin, the township manager of Hanover, New Hampshire, the 25th municipality in the country to adopt the Ready for 100 Renewable Energy resolution, shared how changing the relationships with the utility allowed them to purchase energy at wholesale prices, ultimately saving her municipality 20 percent in energy costs, or $110,000 of its $565,000 annual budget.
Griffin said Hanover invested the savings in all the solar on township buildings, as well as LED lights.
The switch to clean energy has been widely accepted in Griffin’s community. The municipality is governed by a town meeting, an annual legislative body that meets every May. Anyone who’s a registered voter can weigh in. When it came time to vote on the Ready for 100 resolution, Griffin said all 328 people in attendance voted in favor.
Of the community’s 4,200 households, 125 so far have followed the township’s lead and converted to solar power. In all, Hanover, town-wide, has seen an 8 percent decline in the use of electricity from the grid in 2013 as compared to 2018.
“Solar can only be a piece of what we can do, but it’s a pretty powerful piece,” Griffin said.
Jim Wylie, Sierra Club southeastern PA group volunteer chair, who also mentors four Ready for 100 teams in southeastern Pennsylvania, shared that renewable energy commitments are running at warp speed. So much so that his slide showing 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live in regions that have set renewable energy goals was outdated. He said, 1 in 4 is the correct number.
“Montgomery County has a great opportunity because they have so many municipalities that raised their hand around the same time,” Wylie said. “A collaborative energy transition planning effort will save on planning costs and be able to look at regional opportunities for efficiency and renewable energy projects.”
The county is six months behind Chester County, which will hold its first public workshop on July 11 to outline its clean energy plan. Montgomery County municipalities have set Earth Day 2020 as the deadline for completion of a transition plan.
At the county level, the Montgomery County Planning Commission is doing its part to not only support communities transitioning to renewable energy, but to also lead by example. Jon Lesher, the planning commission’s Principal Environmental Planner, said Montgomery County has committed to 100 percent wind energy, has installed 23.2 megawatts of solar and supports each of the municipalities transitioning off the grid.
“It is viable,” Lesher said. “It is possible. We’re here to help.”
One of the easiest ways for municipalities to ease the transition, Lesher said, is to develop best practices to streamline the permitting process.
“The longer it takes for a developer to do permitting, the more it costs,” he said.
In terms of next steps, Bill Sabey, Plymouth Township Environmental Advisory Board member and Ready for 100 volunteer, said he hopes to assemble a steering committee to lead Montgomery County efforts until municipalities, collectively, can hire an energy consultant.
Highlighting the progress which began two years ago, Sabey referenced that 19 municipalities were represented at the conference and still others of the 62 countywide have either adopted or are reviewing the resolution: “Can you imagine the leverage we’re going to have to ask for better solar support?”
For more information on Montgomery County’s Ready for 100 efforts, visit www.ReadyFor100.org/montcopa